The Witches Stone

“The Witches Stone was probably erected in memory of Marion Lillie who died in 1705.  It is not known when the stone was erected but for many years it was lost, covered in road debris and possibly moved due to roadworks in the Spott vicinity.  However, it was found by the Rev Lothian Gray of Spott from 1889 to 1945, some 56 years.  It is thought that he was a man of the Kirk who was willing to recognise the injustice done to women indicted for witchcraft, something the Kirk of Scotland which played a key role in the witch hunt in Scotland has never admitted.”

Ron Pugh author and local historian.

Since publishing his book The Deil’s Ain, author Ron Pugh has carried out more research on Marion Lillie.  Marion Lillie was charged in 1698 for the crime of witchcraft but was apparently set free, probably with a caution from the Kirk.  Marion was known as the Rigwoody Witch (Scots for thin or bony).  In 1704 she was again accused of witchcraft for frightening a pregnant woman who is believed to have had a miscarriage. She would have been brought before the Spott Kirk session to answer for her behaviour, and then her case would have to go before the Presbytery of Dunbar for further questioning.  After obtaining an admission of guilt, the case would then have been referred to the civil magistrates in Dunbar for trial and if appropriate, sentencing.  She never got to that point as she died on 11 February 1705 and was buried in Spott Churchyard.  Witches could not be interred in holy ground.  So Marion was not found guilty of witchcraft though if she had survived, it is certain she would have been executed in Dunbar.

Much of Ron’s Pugh’s work was published in 2010 by the Scots Genealogical Society, Edinburgh under ‘Spott East Lothian Burial Records’, and copies can be obtained from their website.  On page 38, there is an entry for ‘Marion Lillis?’ dated 11 February 1705.  Shortly after that, the Spott Kirk Session minutes reputedly have an entry ‘Many witches burnt on Spott Loan.’  These are not named nor quantified but may have been 13, which was the size of a witch’s coven. These might have been the people who accused Marion of witchcraft and whom she got her own back on at her second trial by the Kirk.  Back in these days that is how the witch hunt worked: if you admitted guilt, you were promised lenient treatment if you named your accomplices… The witch hunt is full of stories like this, some recorded, most not.

Before the Spott Kirk minister and elders heard cases of witchcraft, there would have been a Birly or Birlay Court hearing at the Birlay tree that once stood at the junction of the roads to Little Spott and Little Spott Farm. These were little more than kangaroo courts held by Birlay men to detect injustices among the farming workforce.  Marion would appear before that court in the open air one day in the autumn of 1704, a dark time of year after the harvest was in and people had little to do…

The Witches Stone Written

David Carnegie and Carey Douglas, who live in Spott, wrote a song and interpretation of Marion Lilllies life, the song is based on legend rather than fact.

Song in honour of Marion Lillie

In the year of our Lord 1698

Poor Marion Lillie met her untimely fate

They dragged her screaming to the top of Spott Loan

Now all that is remembered is the Witches Stone

So please lay a penny upon the Witches Stone

Her hair was as long as a January night

They called her Rigwoody for she was bonny and slight

She had many suitors but she’d always lived alone

So please lay a penny upon the Witches Stone

She was called to help with childbirth for the minister’s wife

She knew of herbs and healing but she could save neither life

Twisted in his grief the accusation was thrown

And that sealed her fate upon the Witches Stone

So please lay a penny upon the Witches Stone

So to the Birly Court, beneath the Birly Tree

The minister’s sermon full of bile and rabid fury

The crowd a whipped up angry mob began to bray and shout

Guilty was the verdict before the final charge read out

The pyre was lit and she was burnt down to her very bones

And now her ashes cold upon the Witches Stone

So please lay a penny upon the Witches Stone

If you come up to Spott, and westward you should ramble

To lay a penny on the stone or even light a candle

It’s said that it will bring you luck, though its powers are unknown

For those that lay a penny upon the Witches Stone

So please lay a penny upon the Witches Stone.

Incidentally, If you are minded to ramble up to Spott and lay a penny on the witches stone, you might like to know that the proceeds are collected by Spott Community Association and used for the upkeep of the village hall.

The Witches Stone Today

The plaque that is at the Witches Stone now honours Marion Lillie as well as all of the other souls who lost their lives.  The writing on it, penned by local poet Ruth Gilchrist reads:

“This stone has become a place to commemorate those local people who were once persecuted as witches.  We cannot undo the hurt but we can let their souls go free”

In 2016 local children were invited to a workshop in the village hall to help make an art installation to go with the new plaque at the Witches Stone.  The workshop was hosted by East Lothian artist Alison Weightman and funded by East Lammermuir Community Council.   The children ambled through Spott village stopping to pick herbs and flowers from the hedgerows.  These were taken back to the hall where their medicinal properties were researched in a medicinal encyclopaedia.  Each child imprinted a clay tile with their leaves or flowers and wrote their medicinal properties on them using a letter press.  These were kiln dried and with a little magic from Alison turned into a beautiful, tilled, plinth which sits beneath the plaque.

Further information

Ron Pugh local Dunbar historian wrote the book ‘The Dials ain’ that can be ordered from Amazon.  It is a well-researched book and deals with Scottish witchcraft trials in detail. There is a very informative list of all the women (and men) accused of this crime and their eventual fates where they are known.


Local singers and folk artists Richard Klein and Karen Deitz also wrote a song about Marion Lillie that can be heard on their album ‘The Lucklass Drave’;  it is a hauntingly beautiful song. You can listen to it here

Alison Weightman is an exceptional ceramicist who studied at Edinburgh College of Art and now teaches in Edinburgh. You can view some of her work here

Ruth Gilchrist’s poetry is the kind you want to read again and again.  Good poetry should be shared the following link takes you to her BlogSpot